Years before achieving popularity as a serious dramatic actress in productions like Sybil and Norma Rae, Sally Field delighted television audiences with her comedic skills in sitcoms like Gidget and The Flying Nun. The former was a straightforward swingin’ 60’s teen sitcom, but the latter…Well, the name pretty much says it all.
The Flying Nun was based on a novel called The Fifteenth Pelican by Tere Rios. Field starred as Elsie Ethrington, a young lady who became a nun named Sister Bertrille when she joined the Convent San Tanco in Puerto Rico. She soon discovered that through a combination of the heavy local winds, her light weight, and the elaborate headdress and habit she wore, she could ‘fly.’ Shrugging off her unique ability with the explanation, ”when lift plus thrust is greater than load plus drag, any object can fly,” Sister Bertrille used her ability to cruise around Puerto Rico and aid the community.
Other characters at the convent included the stern Mother Superior and the friendlier Sister Jacqueline, who befriended Sister Bertrille. Sister Sixto was a friendly nun who had problems speaking the English language. Prominent characters in the nearby city included Gaspar Formento, the local police captain, and Carlos, a swinging playboy who owned the local discotheque and had eyes for Sister Bertrille.
The plots were often as unusual as the show’s premise itself. Memorable episodes included ‘With Love From Irving,’ in which a pelican fell in love with the Flying Nun, and ‘The Return of Father Lanigan,’ in which a visiting clergyman discovered that Sister Bertrille and the Reverend Mother had been unknowingly hypnotized, switching personalities whenever they heard the word “red.” Even with all the wackiness going on, the lead actress’s charm and multiple talents (she frequently sang on the show) kept the show grounded (except the Flying Nun herself, of course), and everything would be tied up with an uplifting moral by the show’s end.
The show’s combination of unusual comedy and Field’s charm kept viewers hooked. It became quite popular with Catholic religious organizations, who praised the show for ‘humanizing’ the image of nuns. During its three-year run, the show also spawned a vast array of merchandise, including Flying Nun dolls, paper doll sets, and other toys. A soundtrack album of music, including Field’s renditions of tunes like ‘Felicidad,’ was eventually released as well.
The Flying Nun ended its three-season run in September of 1970. It is still very popular today and even has an international fan club. No matter which way the winds blow, The Flying Nun will always have a place in television history for managing to transform an offbeat premise into a successful and charming hit.
USA / ABC / 82×25 minute episodes / Broadcast 7 September 1967 – 18 September 1970
Creator: Tere Rios / Producers: Harry Ackerman, William Sackheim
Sally Field as Sister Bertrille
Alejandro Rey as Carlos Ramirez
Madeleine Sherwood as Mother Plaseato
Linda Dangcil as Sister Ana
Marge Redmond as Sister Jacqueline
Shelley Morrison as Sister Sixto
Pamelyn Ferdin as Linda Shapiro
Vito Scotti as Gaspar Fomento
Michael Pataki as Salazar
Don Diamond as Chief Galindo
Elinor Donahue as Jennifer Ethrington
Manuel Padilla, Jr. as Marcello
Arlene Golonka as Dottie
Michael Pataki as Pedro
David Hurst as Mendoza
Paul Lynde as Father Lundigan
Rich Little as Brother Paul Bernardi
Norma Crane as Lily Romano
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